Marcia Marini, founder of Ancora Consulting, shares her tips on how to grow your small business
The early stages of a small business’ life can be testing, as it faces challenges from cash flow to staff disengagement – more than half don’t survive beyond their first five years. But ‘business doctor’ Marcia Marini, owner of Ancora Consulting, is here to help, making sure her clients are in good health well beyond the standard life expectancy for a small company. Here she breaks down the most common obstacles for small firms and the treatment that should be applied to sustain healthy business growth.
1. Expand your hierarchy
“As businesses grow, they all face the same stumbling blocks,” Marcia says. In small companies, these are often linked to the changing role of the organisation’s founder: “It’s a common feature of every growing business that initially everyone reports directly to the owner. As the business develops, some kind of hierarchy needs to be brought in.”
Marcia finds that many founders are reluctant to loosen their control, but that the three-in-one role of owner/HR manager/financial director has a negative impact on the business: “Everything bottlenecks on them,” she says, “which leads to a lot of inefficiency and frustration.” Handing over responsibility to others is a necessary step towards sustainable business growth, letting owners focus on the strategic actions that need their attention.
2. Boost morale
When the new hierarchy is introduced to the firm, there’s a risk that employees can feel distanced from the owner, and that staff can lose motivation. “Unfortunately in smaller businesses it only takes one or two unhappy staff members to affect morale in general,” says Marcia. A new line manager should prioritise morale by ring-fencing time to communicate with staff in general meetings or one-on-ones: “It’s amazing how much good open, transparent communication can achieve.”
3. Get support
Marcia reminds us that many temporary issues faced by a growing business can be relieved with a little external help – short-term staff for short-term problems. For funding and cash flow issues, the experts really do know best: “Good financial controls and accurate reporting are essential. If you don’t have the internal resources to help, contract a financial consultant to come in once a month to work with you and your accountant.” Marcia also suggests enlisting professional help to get contractual agreements with clients right: “These can substantially impact company bottom-line profitability and, importantly, your ability to self-fund business growth.”
Marcia’s advises those struggling with their growing business to seek support for the higher-level issues too. Finding a mentor allows business owners to allocate time for structured thinking about the important issues at the heart of their company: “Our mentees walk away from sessions with a clear plan of action that they are fully responsible for. We’re there to support, challenge and facilitate their thinking process.” Marcia recommends half-day coaching or mentoring sessions once a week in times of crisis, and monthly once things are going to plan.
Marcia offers support to CEOs and owners from every walk of life, all struggling with business growth. “Growth is a vector – it needs both the direction and speed to be right in order to avoid pitfalls,” says Marcia. And it’s worth listening – thanks to the self-styled ‘business doctor’, all her clients have outlived their five-year lifespan.